Needham History Center & Museum Needham History Center & Museum, Needham Massachusetts 02492

The Gazette – February/March 2016


    The Gazette – February/March 2016

    In This Issue…

    • True Bootlegger Tales
    • The Needham Speakeasy – Ain’t We Got Fun!
    • Baker Estate Video Premiere Showing
    • Coming Attractions


     liquor raid

    True Bootlegger Tales

    Was Needham Ever Really DRY?

    Although the vote last year to allow liquor stores in Needham ended the town’s reputation as “Dry,” the restrictions were being chipped away for years.  The Sheraton, governed by state rather than local rules, was allowed to have a bar since the 1960s.  More recent votes allowed liquor service at restaurants with more than 100 seats, then carry-in at smaller restaurants, then liquor service at smaller restaurants.

    From about the time of the Civil War, Needham developed a strong temperance movement.  In those days, Americans drank significantly more than they do now, and drunkenness was commonplace.  This was made worse by the practice of paying for small jobs with liquor rather than money (common trade in small towns was based as much on barter as on cash).  Men who were paid in rum were not bringing home their salary to support their families.  Temperance, therefore, was a hearth-and-home issue and a legitimate political sphere for women – and they made the most of it.

    Passage of the 18th Amendment in 1920 established Prohibition as Federal law.  However, the 21st Amendment repealing it in 1933 allowed – but did not require – municipalities to permit the sale of alcohol.  Needham opted to remain dry.

    Even so, as these TRUE stories from the Needham newspapers attest, there were always enterprising souls who made sure that Needham never really went without.


    LIQUOR RAID AT WEBSTER ST. DWELLING (Needham Times, 22 October 1936)

    Silently, without disturbing a sleeping neighborhood, Needham Police and Federal officers staged a late-night raid on an illegal distillery on Webster Street. The still had been in operation for several months without arousing the suspicion of neighbors.

    The raid netted the Federal agents a 500-gallon still, 200 gallons of distilled alcohol in kegs and two-gallon tins, and 5000 gallons of molasses and mash.

    The water meter in the house had been disconnected to hide the tremendous amount of water being used in the distilling process, and the electric light meter had been altered so the large amount of power used in operating the plant would not show on the meter.

    The building owner was arraigned in Dedham’s Federal Courthouse the same day. Needham Police had raided this same dwelling a few years before, and arrested the owner for keeping and exposing liquor for sale.


    NEEDHAM POLICE SEIZE ALCOHOL WORTH $3,000  (Needham Chronicle, 25 August 1923)

    Alert off-duty Newton police officer, James “Happy” Conlon, became suspicious when he was asked directions by a truck driver who looked and acted a bit shifty. The policeman called the Needham Police with the license number, and a few minutes later Police Chief McKenzie and Officers Bliss, Haddock, and Conlon came upon the truck on River Park Street, where plain tin cans were being unloaded into a barn. The contents of the cans proved to be pure alcohol, with a value of $3,000.

    The driver was arrested, but claimed he was just hired to drive and knew nothing about the men and their cargo.  His bail was set at $500.  The other two men, known only as “Joe” and “Donnie,” took to their heels when the police approached.  Although Officer Bliss fired his gun into the air and called on them to stop, the pair successfully escaped into the nearby woods.

    The owner of the barn disclaims all knowledge of the liquor and said he had rented the barn for use as a garage. Police say a pile of hay found in the barn would have made an ideal place to hide the cans. Police believe the shipment may be just one activity of an organized gang using Needham as a distribution point.


    LIQUOR RAID IN NEEDHAM CENTER (Needham Chronicle, 28 December 1901)

    Police made two raids this week on the same premises on Great Plain Avenue, in Needham Center.  The owner had been under observation by police for some time for disturbances and several cases of intoxication, and had been suspected of handling liquor illegally. He had been warned that his actions were making him liable to a raid, but this did not curtail his actions to any great extent.

    After a bad disturbance earlier this week, Police Chief Norman McKenzie notified the Selectmen that he would raid the premises within a few days.  The first raid was carried out at midnight. When the premises were searched, crates containing bottles of whiskey and beer were found and confiscated.  A second midnight raid a few days later came up empty.

    The owner of the building had two trucks, which he used to haul freight.  There was a strong suspicion that he had been illegally transporting the liquor crates, because they were not listed in his delivery register.

    Attempts are being made to identify the owners of the crates.  The case of the seizure will be brought before the district court in Dedham next month.



    In one of the biggest hauls of the season, the Needham Police Department raided a home on Nehoiden Street, where, by the use of modern and elaborate apparatus, denatured alcohol and alcohol medicines were being re-distilled to extract their alcohol content.

    The apparatus was confiscated by police, along with 10 barrels of denatured alcohol, 75 cases of rubbing alcohol, 45 gallons of distilled alcohol, 250 gallons of fermenting grape mash, 5624 pounds of grapes, and numerous crates of empty cans and bottles.

    The police believe that the product was carried out of town by trucks during the night.  The still had probably been in operation for only a short time before it was discovered.  This is the largest of seven successful raids carried out by the Needham Police Department in the last few months.



    What was thought to be the largest alcohol plant in the Boston area was seized by the Needham police in late December, when they raided two farms at Cheney Plain in North Needham.

    Chief of Police Arthur Bliss lead the raiding party.  The still had been discovered by accident when police officers responded to a call to investigate a wrecked car near Cheney Street. Observing a strong odor in the area, the officers notified the Chief and secured a search warrant.

    The plant was in three buildings near an old farmhouse. The farmer said he had leased them for $10 a month to men who said they wanted to raise mushrooms. The plant was in a large barn near a carriage shed which contained seven wooden vats, each with a 1000-gallon capacity. Also in the shed were two stills; one had a 5000-gallon capacity, while the other held 1000 gallons.  These were operated by gasoline burners. Over 175 feet of pipe connected the buildings to a pump house. The plant was in full operation at the time of the raid, although the premises were deserted.

    The DPW carried the product to the liquor room at the Police Station, where it was turned over to Federal officers who dismantled the plant. It was estimated that the plant had been in operation for two months, causing an estimated daily tax loss of $3000.

    – Reporters Polly Attridge and Gloria Greis



    Ain’t We Got Fun!

    What a great party! About 150 people turned out for a night of good food, vintage cocktails, games, and music, to celebrate the spirit of Prohibition at The Needham Speakeasy.

    Flapper dresses and fedoras festooned the hallways as partygoers channeled the look and feel of the 1920s. Attendees took their chances at blackjack and roulette, and bid on a slew of fabulous silent auction items. The evening was a rousing success as the crowd showed its support for the Historical Society by slipping into period garb, sipping special cocktails, and hamming it up gangster-style.

    Many thanks to the Sponsors and Supporters who made it possible – The Needham Bank, Center 128, ARS Services, Eaton’s Funeral Homes, Needham Exchange Club, Coldwell-Banker Residential Brokerage, The Closet Exchange, Greg Condon Esq., Maryruth Perras, Needham Wine and Spirits, the Petrini Corporation, Marcy Busch, Moe and Elizabeth Handel, Alison and Matt Borrelli, Deb and Tom Jacob, Bob Heald, Rick and Gail Davis, Ed and Carol de Lemos, and Colleen Schaller.

    Thanks also to the many folks who helped with the Planning and Logistics, including Andy Garlick (at the piano), barkeeps Jana Moe and Kyle Schaller, Katherine Herer (food), Claire Fusaro, Ruth Orenstein, and of course the Planning Committee! – Alison Borrelli, Mark Gluesing, Moe Handel, Colleen Schaller, Mike Niden, Susan Anderson, Susan Welby, Kathy D’Addesio, Jeanne Carey, David Drake, Lauren Kaufmann, Bob Heald, and Deb Jacob.

    The Silent Auction was a huge success, thanks to the hard work of Kathy D’Addesio and Jeanne Carey, and the generous donations from Vasilia Laskaris, B In Touch Message Therapy, Barre3 Needham, Carol Boulris, Carrie Nation Restaurant and Cocktail Bar (Boston), Colleen Schaller, Courthouse Cigar Company, Deb Jacob, Dick and Sally Toran, Don and Fran Gratz, Dunn-Gaherin’s Food and Spirits (Newton), The Farmhouse, Gail Fisher – Adornment Artistry, Global Travel Advisors, The Great Hall Performance Foundation, Hazel’s Bakery and Deli, The Huntington Theatre Company, Jeanne and Steve Carey, Kathy D’Addesio, Kathy Whitney, Mark Gluesing, Matt and Alison Borrelli, Mike Niden, Needham Center Fine Wines, Needham Closet Exchange Resale, Needham Wine and Spirits, Ray’s New Garden, Salon Di Carlo, Susan Anderson and Joe McCabe, Habitat – Clothes to Live In, Taylor’s Stationary, The Needham Bank, The Needham Children’s Center, The Needham Golf Club, Tina Whalen, Venus Nails, and Volante Farms.


    You Are Invited…

    To the Premiere Showing of our new documentary film –

    B&B full

    A Film by Derick Risner.

    Narrated by Gary Gillis.  

    Produced by The Needham Historical Society & the Needham Channel.

    In the 1860s, William Emerson Baker retired from his sewing machine business with a vast fortune and purchased nearly 800 acres in Needham – the famous Ridge Hill Farms. Widely regarded as America’s first amusement park, Ridge Hill Farms embodied Baker’s extraordinary passion for social and economic reform, experimental agriculture, bad puns and practical jokes.

    Saturday, March 19th at 2:00 pm, in Powers Hall (Needham Town Hall)


    Coming Soon!

    • March 13, Sunday, 2 pm – Wingmasters: Native American Artifacts and Birds of Prey
    • March 19, Saturday, 2 pm – Beautiful & Bizarre: William Baker’s Ridge Hill Farms (at Powers Hall)
    • April 9, Saturday, 9 am to 3 pm – The 34th Annual Pansy Day

    For more information, see our website Calendar.